The Minnesota Vikings had a shot at a Week 2 repeat when they received the ball down seven points late in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday night, but the chances for a game-tying drive were quickly washed away by a strip sack of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Following the game, Cousins did not have an answer for what happened on the fumble, saying, “you tell me, man,” when he was asked about the final play. On Wednesday, Cousins talked more in depth about fumbling issues, which have been problematic throughout his career. With 35 fumbles since 2015 Vikings’ quarterback leads the NFL in that category (tied with running quarterback Russell Wilson).
“Coach [Kevin] Stefanski had a good line when we were watching film the other day: ‘Not all fumbles are created equal,'” Cousins said. “The key is to go back and look at the ones that have happened and say: What could I do differently? And what can I do differently? The coaching points will always be the same, keep two hands on the football and when you feel like you’re going to be taken down, make sure you secure it.”
Cousins also fumbled twice against the Buffalo Bills, one of which he said could have been avoided.
“I focus on the [fumbles] that I can control, that are correctable,” Cousins said. “That’s not all of them. I think any time I didn’t have two hands on the ball, any time I’m running with it and it’s loose like the one against the Bills that was punched out from behind, that’s the one I think I have to be better, my elbow has to be tighter, the ball has to be secure. But when you’re in the act of throwing, trying to see down field, I think that’s a different fumble than when you’re running and it’s loose.”
The Vikings’ franchise quarterback noted that there is a double-edged sword to trying to avoid losing the ball. Cousins has hung in the pocket and made a large number of quality throws, especially on Thursday night when Aaron Donald alone registered 13 pressures (per PFF).
“You can’t give up on plays or get your eyes down on the rush just to avoid fumbles, you still have to be a quarterback. you still have to take your drop, try to step up, try to make plays, try to be a playmaker and at times when you do that, you’re going to risk the occasional fumble,” Cousins said. “You have to trust protection. You can’t drop back expecting protection to be loose or you’re never going to be able to play.”
As far as Thursday night’s fumble specifically, it’s clear Cousins does not put that one in the category of being “correctable.”
“The one against the Rams, I’m waiting on my first read,” Cousins said. “Adam Thielen is my first read, I’m trying to get him the football. I’m not going number two, number three, I’m seven-step, one hitch and try to get him the ball and I did.”
Part of the issue for the Vikings has been their lack of a run attack — or put a different way, the fact that they have been playing from behind for the vast majority of the first four weeks. That forces Cousins to drop back over and over again, risking potential turnovers.
“When you drop back more, the percentages say you’re going to take more sacks, you’re going to have more interceptions, the more you drop back, that stuff is bound to happen, so any time you can run the football, it’s certainly preferred,” Cousins said. “It’s much lower risk, it’s much safer of a play call. But very rarely in the NFL can you just line up and run the ball.”
Still Cousins will have to find ways to better protect the ball when he is asked to play in shootouts like Thursday night’s games. He said he is focused on things like dropping back to the proper depth.
“You try not to coach the results as much as the process, just because you didn’t fumble when you were [dropping back too deep], that still needs to be coached too because you could have fumbled if something else had happened in the play,” Cousins said. “I don’t coach try to coach results, I try to coach process or learn from the process.”